The divorce rate in America is one of the highest in the world (over 50 percent). But the divorce rate of Muslims in North America is almost as high, according to New York based sociologist Ilyas Ba-Yunus.
Yes, it's true. Muslims today are divorcing in larger numbers than before. There are clearly problems within families that have not been addressed: dysfunction, miscommunication, and in a number of cases violence and abuse.
But while Muslims are taking this step in larger numbers, what does Islam have to say about it?
The Islamic perspective on divorce
"Divorce is something that is very much discouraged in Islam," explains Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
"It is called, according to one of the Hadith of the Prophet Sal Allahu alayhi wa Sallam (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) 'the most hateful thing that is permissible.'"
This stance discouraging divorce needs to be seen in a balanced way, notes Siddiqi.
"It has to be used very carefully," he says.
What are some legitimate reasons for a couple to consider divorce?
There are definitely valid reasons Muslim men and women can seek divorce.
"One legitimate reason is if there is immoral behavior, unIslamic behavior on the part of a spouse," says Siddiqi. "If a spouse is involved in that, then there is a breakdown."
"For example if one of the spouses, God forbid, is involved in adultery or fornication. In that case, they have a right to separate and this is a legitimate ground for separation."
Another valid reason for divorce is apostasy on the part of either spouse. If a Muslim man or woman's spouse leaves Islam, Siddiqi says the marriage is null and void and the couple can no longer be together.
Abdalla Idris Ali is a member of ISNA's executive body and former president of the organization. He adds to the list of legitimate reasons for seeking divorce dishonesty prior to marriage.
For instance, if a husband told his wife before marriage that he did not consume alcohol or drugs and she discovers after marriage that he is an alcoholic or drug addict.
Some other reasons are:
- a woman was married before and she did not tell her husband
- a woman marries man and he is impotent, and she finds out after marriage.
- a man's inability or refusal to support his wife
- a wife's refusal to live with her husband or be with him.
- if one of the spouses is unable to have conjugal relations
- one spouse feels repulsion towards the other.
Ali, however, cautions against jumping to divorce quickly and adds that every case has to be looked at individually.
"It is one thing to speak about a ruling. It is another thing to speak about a judgement in a certain case," he says in an interview with Sound Vision and RadioIslam.com.
"If you ask me now, what is the ruling in Islam for a young man who commits Zina (adultery and fornication)? I'll tell you Allah says, give him 100 lashes. This is what the Quran says."
"But you bring me a man and say, this man committed Zina. I'm not going just to give him 100 lashes. This is a case. I have to investigate it, to see whether he did it, you cannot just go and apply the rule."
Illegitimate reasons to seek divorce
Along with legitimate reasons for seeking divorce, Siddiqi and Ali also point to those that are not so acceptable.
Siddiqi gives the example of a husband not liking the way a wife cooks or dresses.
"One should not expect perfection on the part of the spouse because nobody's perfect except Allah and His Messenger. Everybody has shortcomings," he says in an interview with Sound Vision from his home in Orange County, California.
"One should have willingness to sacrifice some of the things," he adds. "This is how the family is established, how it becomes a better family.
Another reason that should not be grounds for divorce is just moodiness on the part of a spouse, says Ali.
What can couples do to avoid divorce?
Siddiqi recommends the following steps to couples who are in difficulty:
1. Both spouses should have the fear of Allah. They should remember that if they are unfair to their spouse, they will be judged on their behavior by Allah.
2. They should try to resolve the problem amongst themselves, then within family members
3. They should not hesitate to involve other members of the community. For instance, they should not feel ashamed or embarrassed to meet and speak with their local Imam (if he is someone fair and trustworthy to the husband and the wife).
4. Seek counseling, preferably from a Muslim counselor. If that is not possible than from a non-Muslim counselor. However, they should be aware of Islamic guidelines so they can take advice from that which is in line with Islamic values.
"As physically we can get sick, our relations also can get sick sometimes," says Siddiqi. "The sooner we take care of this problem the better. We should not prolong it. We should resolve the differences as soon as possible and as much as possible. But when problems go on and on, then the wounds will grow."
Siddiqi recommends Muslim couples draft a prenuptial agreement and specify that all conflicts in marriage should be resolved Islamically and in the case of divorce, this process, if it happens, is also handled in a manner in line with Islamic guidelines.